Why Corn Syrup Is A Key Ingredient For Stovetop Caramel

Making stovetop caramel sauce at home is both simple and difficult. The paradoxical nature of this sauce, which requires common pantry items, like sugar and water, and no more than a pot and spatula or spoon, is at the root of why it can frustrate both the novice and pro chef. But to get it just right, you must have corn syrup and a lot of patience. 

Why corn syrup? While corn syrup is the key to transforming marshmallows into fluff, it is also critical when you use the wet method — sugar is dissolved in water over low heat — for making caramel sauce to prevent crystallization. You know this has happened when your caramel sauce is overly thick and gritty in appearance rather than smooth and thick.

To stop crystallization in its tracks, corn syrup is added with the sugar and water. Why does it work? Sugar is comprised of sucrose, which is a combination of glucose and fructose and corn syrup is comprised primarily of glucose. When sucrose comes into contact with glucose and fructose, crystallization is less likely to happen because the latter two prevent the molecules of sucrose from sticking together.

Honey can work as well

If you do not have any corn syrup in your pantry, don't worry. You can use honey. Honey is similar to corn syrup in that it is made up of 40% fructose, 30% glucose, around 17% water, and some other sugars and carbohydrates. It only takes about a tablespoon per cup of either corn syrup or honey to prevent crystallization from occurring, but regardless of which one you use, it will definitely benefit your caramel sauce endeavors, producing a smooth sauce that is ready for a little butter to make it creamy and delicious.

Some people add cream to their caramel sauce as well. It does make for a velvety and rich texture, but if you do add it, do so after you add the butter and remove the sauce from the heat so it doesn't curdle when those first drops hit the hot sauce. 

This sauce is perfect to drizzle over ice cream or to use when making salted caramel almond pralines or chocolate salted thumbprint cookies. If you want to experiment, add a little sea salt to your caramel sauce to get the contrast of sweet and salty if your taste buds desire, or try some lavender to add floral notes or even dark chocolate for a dark chocolate caramel sauce.